October 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Niche e-retailers, you have three years to line up new web addresses

The ability to launch unique web addresses for serving niche markets is coming to a close because the Internet is running out of addresses, the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California says. There are still more than 1 billion addresses available, but in three years they’ll be taken, the institute projects.

The Internet, as many retailers have learned, is the ideal environment for developing multiple storefronts each with its unique brand. With much online shopping starting in Internet search engines, a web address dedicated to a particular product can quickly ring home to shoppers who spot it in search results.

But the chance to get in on the multi-address strategy is coming to a close, researchers at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California say. “As Internet use becomes widespread, we are running out of Internet addresses,” says John Heidemann, project leader at the institute and an associate professor in USC’s Computer Sciences Department.

Heidemann and other institute researchers recently completed a census of the Internet and found 2.8 billion IP addresses-the 10-digit addresses like of a possible universe of 4.3 billion. By 2010, the remaining addresses will all be taken, Heidemann’s team says.

The Internet Engineering Task Force, the technical body that manages the Internet, has anticipated a shortfall of addresses since the 1990s and has designed a new protocol, IPv6, to solve the problem, Heidemann says. “But deployment has been slow,” he says. “Our data can help illustrate the need to move forward.”

The census is also helpful from a security viewpoint, the institute says. Researchers are using it to study how worm viruses spread through the Internet and to plot maps of where cyber-attacks originate.

To compile the census, researchers used three machines to send 3 billion inquiries to IP addresses over a two-month period. The last Internet census, which occurred in 1982, counted 315 allocated addresses, USC says.


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